September 25, 2013  

12 Tips On How To Write a Song

Even the best lyric writer sometimes gets stuck. And it’s at this point that they may turn for help. Here are a few tips to help you through the process.

Rhyming dictionaries
These contain lists of words that rhyme. Usually, you look up the word you want to rhyme at the back of the book, such as the word ‘grace’, and it gives you a number which leads you to a list of words in the front of the book that rhyme with grace, such as face, place, brace and so on. These dictionaries can be very handy for making rhymes, but a word of warning: don’t over use them as you can spot a word that been thrown into a song purely to make a rhyme a mile away. Just take a listen to almost any song by Oasis and you will find instances of this:

Champagne Supernova: “Slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball” Supersonic: “She did it with a doctor, on a helicopter”.

Notice how both song titles use alliteration in their title. This is a very useful technique for creating hooky song titles.

 

Thesauri
These books are similar to dictionaries, but give us synonyms and antonyms for the word we are looking up. This can be useful if we’re looking for a word that means happy for example. Synonyms of happy can be pleased, contented, excited etc. Antonyms can be unhappy, miserable, depressed etc and any of these can be used in our song to bring some new interest in the lyric.

Search engines
These websites can be invaluable when looking for a little inspiration. Here’s an example: Let’s say you wanted a phrase that was similar to ‘the end of the line’ but not exactly the same. You can search on google for the phrase ‘the end of the’ (make sure you enclose your phrase in quotation marks) and you will get hundreds of search results, each with a variation on the phrase, such as ‘the end of the summer’, ‘the end of the road’, ‘the end of the dream’ et al. Any of these can be used in your song.

Here’s another wacky idea
Let’s say you’re writing a song about how much you love England in the Spring, but you can’t think of any way of expressing this without sounding clichéd or trite. Try typing out a few phrases (such as “England, you fill my heart with happiness and wonder at your weather, blooms and beautiful children”).  Now, put that phrase into a website that automatically translates English into, say, Italian. Now, copy the Italian translation into a website that translates Italian into English. You’ll find that the results you get are often bizarre, but just as often can be quite useful as inspiration in your lyrics.

Make sure your song title features in your song lyric
It’s a very good idea to make sure that the title of your song features prominently in the lyric; maybe it’s the most memorable line of the chorus, or the first line of the first verse. The reason for this is that it’s important that when someone hears your song they’re able to ask for it by name in their record store, or search for it online. This is the “Where do I get mine?” problem, and you just solved it! By the way, if you want to see a great example of a song being mistitled you should try looking up ‘Song 2′ by Blur on a file-sharing network like Limewire. Almost everyone lists it as ‘Woo Hoo’ or ‘The Woo Hoo Song’, this being the most memorable line of the song.

Make sure your lyric is ‘hooky’
It must contain short, snappy, memorable phrases that stay in your audience’s minds. They’ll enjoy the song more, they’ll remember it and ultimately go out and buy it if they enjoyed that funny little line about ‘Stealing flowers on the way to see you’ for example.

Your first line in your song must grab the listener’s attention
It’s the same principle as used in journalism, you have to arouse your reader’s interest in what’s coming later in the article. In song writing, if you’ve got them by the end of the first line then they’ll stay with you until at least the first chorus. Then you start all over again with another attention grabbing first line in the second verse.

Please make your point early!
You may have this wonderful idea for a song that captures your imagination for days, but if you haven’t communicated it in your song within a minute (or less) then your audience’s attention will dwindle. By the time you’ve revealed what you’re talking about, they’ve already switched channels, and that’s not good. Even if you’re telling a story in your lyric, it’s a good idea to have given your audience an indication of where you’re going pretty early in the song. Don’t forget, you can always add a twist in the tale towards the end of the song for interest if you need to.

Don’t rely on your arrangement to make up for weak words
Every good song can be sung with only a piano or a guitar accompaniment, and if yours can’t then you need to go back and change it. It’s very easy within programs like Cubase, Logic and Reason to fill up every sonic space in your arrangement, use every plug-in, have 20 different drum sounds going at once. But I promise you that your 99% of your audience do not care about any of that stuff AT ALL. Strip your arrangement back to the basics (simple drum kit, bass line, chord/pad line); does the song still hold our interest? If no, then its time to do some re-writing.

Be consistent
Be careful that you use the same lyrical style throughout your song. By that I mean that if you start off writing from the point of view of, say, a middle-aged father reflecting on his youth to his teenage son, it would be entirely inappropriate for him to start using current street slang, or Shakespearian monologues! An extreme example of course, but you need to bare this in mind because your audience needs you to be consistent, and therefore believable.

Avoid phrases that have dated badly
Most of the time when writing pop songs you’ll need to use contemporary words and phrases. For example, most people these days refer to their ‘PC’, not their ‘Home Computer’, ‘shades’ not ‘sunglasses’. You will need to appear current, fresh and exciting/excited with your lyrics, so avoid phrases that have dated badly e.g. ‘lovely jubbly’, ‘surf the internet’, ‘Robbie Williams’ etc.

Be concise
Make sure that you’re not using ten words when three would have done. In other words, be concise. There’s nothing worse than a song that waffles on and on and on… Look back over your lyric and make sure you can justify the presence of every line. If you find a line you can’t justify then rewrite it! This is painful, but essential.

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Editor’s Note: This is an old article and things have moved on considerably since the original publication date 🙂

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This post is included in Tips & Tricks